Saturday, May 20, 2017
Marathon: St. Lucia to Marathon passage log
May 3, Wednesday
0800 Towed from slip.
I woke at 0530 to the sound of light rain on the deck. I got up to close the forward hatch. I had the spray hood over the companionway and was able to leave it open which makes a big difference.
At 0600 I fit the Torqeedo. It started.
I had breakfast, shaved, went ashore to dispose of trash and fill my daily water bottles.
At 0745 I was ready to go. I turned on the Torqeedo. It ran for two seconds and stopped. The display read ‘Error 33’. I do not know what that means. I disconnected cables, cleaned connections, sprayed WD40, repeatedly, and continued to get ‘Error 33.’ I cursed and went down the dock where I found a man in a Cigarette-type boat and said, “My outboard won’t start. I’ll give you $50 to tow me from the dock. He said, “Yes. Are you ready now?” I said, “Five minutes” and went back to GANNET where I removed the Torqeedo and outboard bracket and a stern dock line. The man appeared and brought his boat alongside skillfully. We tied together. He powered us slowly from the slip twenty yards to the end of the finger where I raised the mainsail and said, “I can sail from here.” I reached over to hand him the fifty dollar bill and he smiled and said, “No. I help you today, maybe you help me tomorrow.”
I thanked him, cast off the lines and sailed under mainsail around the edge of the marina and out the channel. Once clear of the roughly twenty boats at anchor, I engaged the tiller pilot and went below to stow the Torqeedo, fenders, and dock lines. We continue to sail under main alone, making 5 and 6 knots on a reach so broad we can not set both main and jib.
day’s run 23 miles COG 306º SOG 7.0
Key West 1313 miles (straight line) 301º
I went to sheet to tiller at 1000. Full jib and full main. A sunny, pleasant offing. 10-12 knots of wind. 2’ seas. Forward hatch open. We are sailing a little high of the rhumb line to the Mona Passage and must be getting a boost from current presumably from water funneling in from the Atlantic between the islands because we aren’t sailing 7 knots. I can see the vague outline of Martinique’s mountains fifteen miles to the north. St. Lucia no longer visible astern. Cold pizza already eaten for lunch.
1500 We were heading too far north, so I engaged the tiller pilot and lowered the mainsail. We were still heading too far north, so I gybed the jib to starboard and we are now on course for Mona Passage, the southern entrance of which is 400 miles away. We no longer have current with us and our SOG has dropped to 4 knots. There are patches of sea weed floating about and I leaned over the side to see if we had any caught on the rudder. We haven’t. I can’t see if there is any on the keel.
1700 About to sit on deck and listen to music in stereo, thanks to Carol bringing me a second Megaboom. I have already benefited by having hot coffee in the morning and being able to charge my phone easily.
The wind continues light and inconsistent. I gybed back to starboard an hour ago. Earlier there were massive explosive clouds over the chain of islands behind us which have largely dissipated.
1800 After dinner of chianti sausage, Irish cheddar cheese and a French ban baguette, I raised the mainsail. The wind has veered and now is close to the beam when we are on course. It didn’t much increase our speed, which remains around 4 knots. Tiller pilot still steering, though I may go to sheet to tiller if this angle holds. While on deck sipping a gin and tonic and listening to JESUS CHRIST, SUPERSTAR, I saw that we have cross seas. Low 1’ waves from the southeast and the northeast slapping into one another.
When raising the mainsail it was satisfying to glance up at the masthead and see the wind angle on the new Windex.
1930 GANNET sailing 5-7 knots at or within one knot of true wind speed. Half moon directly overhead. A threatening cloud bank to the north losing shape. A few stars.
May 4, Thursday
0700 With the ominous and uncertain sky last evening, I left the Pelagic engaged expecting the wind to require too many adjustments for sheet to tiller during the night. It did. Veering and backing. Strengthening and weakening. I was up many times adjusting sails and at 0100 to lower the mainsail when we were dancing about too frenetically at 8 knots. Awake at 0530 I raised the mainsail and went to sheet to tiller.
It looks to be a nice day. Mostly blue sky with scattered trade wind white clouds. Three foot waves. A white bird hunting around GANNET. Jia Peng Feng playing on the Megabooms. A cup of hot coffee into which I dip mini croissants kept in place by a shoe on the floorboards. Decadence.
day’s run 128 miles COG 308º SOG 6.5
Key West 1184 miles (straight line)
Mona Passage 283 miles 300º
Beautiful day. Sky and sea blue. Wind 12-14. GANNET sailing at 6+ knots, though yawing under sheet to tiller steering.
1700 A perfect day. GANNET is so much fun to sail, and I’m not even steering. The jib is. She is so quick and responsive to wind and wave, accelerating at the least hint of any increase.
Sitting on deck an hour ago I saw a ship pass several miles ahead of us, heading south.
It is odd to be sailing on a sea surrounded by land, rather than an ocean. The nearest land now is Montserrat 100 miles ENE.
GANNET continues under sheet to tiller steering, averaging better than six knots since noon.
May 5, Friday
0930 This is pleasant but slow. We are making 4 and sometimes 5 knots under jib alone with tiller pilot steering under a mostly cloudy sky.
After yesterday’s perfection, the night was not. I was up and down for three and a half hours, from 2130 to 2230 and 0100 to 0330 trying to balance the sheet to tiller steering. The sky had clouded over and it was a dark, starless night. I wore my headlamp. I furled the jib further twice, played with the mainsheet, added, removed and shifted elastics, without ever getting us on the desired course. Always we were far too high or too low with the jib collapsing and refilling with a crash. At 0330 I managed to get to sleep with the expectation of sorting it out after dawn. However after dawn, I still couldn’t get us balanced on course. We continued to sail for the wrong end of Puerto Rico, so I lowered the mainsail and we proceed pleasantly and slowly. I’m not sure what, if anything I am going to do about this. The wind and our speed are increasing slightly. I am occasionally seeing SOGs of 6. We are 60 miles south of St. Croix. I just remembered that I haven’t set up the running backstay, which should be done when sailing without the mainsail. So I will.
day’s run 136 miles COG 296º SOG 5.0
Mona Passage 149 miles 293 º
Key West 1049 miles (straight line)
Sky partially clear. Some trade wind clouds low. Some cirrus high. Nothing threatening.
We continue to ease along under jib alone.
In an interview earlier this year I was asked what I am still learning. It is a good question and one I had not been asked before. I did not have a good answer, but what I am still learning may be when to ease off and not suffer unnecessarily.
The last of the sausage and cheese for lunch, accompanied by an apple. I bought four Golden Delicious. It was.
1700 An easy day. We’ve averaged five knots since noon. A waypoint off the south end of the Mona Passage is 128 miles away, so we will be sailing it tomorrow night. I have sailed Mona Passage twice before, the first time when north of Puerto Rico Jill and I were brushed by a freighter that broke a spreader on RESURGAM as recounted in the chapter ‘Adrift’ in A SINGLE WAVE. We managed to reach Ponce on the south side of the island without losing the mast, made repairs, and then sailed back up the passage and on to Key West. Large swells can develop in the passage, which is shallow on both sides. We did not experience them then and I hope not to now.
Going to stand in the companionway and listen to music and sip red wine. Bottled not boxed. I bought two bottles of red and two of white in St. Lucia, all with screw tops so I can drink a half bottle one night and save the other half for another.
1900 A freighter heading west passed within a half mile astern of GANNET ten minutes ago. She seemed to divert course to check us out. I stood in the companionway watching her until she was safely clear. Congested waters from now on.
May 6, Saturday
0700 A quiet restful night. I slept well and needed to. I still woke often and sometimes GANNET seemed soundlessly motionless, but every time I checked our speed I found her making 5 knots.
This morning the same mix of high and low clouds and blue sky as yesterday. We are 30 miles south of Ponce, Puerto Rico and 48 miles from a waypoint near the southwest corner of the island. Sunshine. Pleasant temperature. Bach Partitas on the Megabooms. Mini croissants and coffee.
day’s run 121 miles COG 298º SOG 5.3
Mona Passage 26 miles 296º
Key West 930 miles (straight line)
One dark cloud dropped a few minutes of rain on us this morning, but otherwise a sunny, clear day.
We are only 16 miles off the Puerto Rican coast. I think can see land but it is indistinct in the clouds caught on the island.
I’m not sure what tonight will bring. Or how I will approach it. Certainly change.
1840 We are in the Mona Passage. Two hours ago bent by the land the wind veered and I had to gybe the jib to starboard. This resulted in awkward motion, with the wind on one side of GANNET and waves on the other. I forced myself to wait until 1730 to gybe back and we are now sailing more comfortably at 330º ten miles off the west coast of Puerto Rico and beyond the shoal water.
The moon is ¾ full and above the horizon so we’ll have light much of the night. It would be very nice if this wind holds.
The sun has yet to set. We are about to enter a new time zone, GMT -5, but because Florida is on summer time which is the same as our present geographical time, I am not going to change ship’s time only to change it back when I reach Key West.
Dinner of freeze dry beef stew accompanied by the last half of the bottle of red wine and a shuffled playlist of movie soundtracks. The Overture from THE HERO is presently playing, and I still have a half glass of wine.
2000 Raised mainsail. Present wind angle I can carry it without blanketing jib. Gained more than a knot from 5 to 6+. We are past the shoals on the Puerto Rican side and on course to clear those on the Dominican Republic side. I’m going to bed, expecting to be up often.
May 7, Sunday
0550 The wind remained south all through the passage and the sea smooth in the lee of Puerto Rico. Not until we cleared the north side of the island an hour or so ago did it return northeast. I lowered the mainsail at midnight because it was blanketing the jib and raised it again a few minutes ago and returned to the blessed quiet of sheet to tiller steering.
The sky is light, but the sun has yet to come over the horizon.
I was up often. Saw the lights of two boats in the distance. Tired.
On this side of the islands we are back in the Atlantic Ocean.
day’s run 116 miles COG 309º SOG 5.3
Key West 821 miles
Continued beautiful weather and fine sailing. Sheet to tiller with full main and a couple of rolls in the jib for balance.
I saw a ship entering the Mona Passage behind us this morning.
Our course yesterday zig-zagged so we did more than 115 miles over the bottom. The day’s run is straight line from the previous noon position.
The distance to Key West is now approximately accurate.
1330 Still a beautiful day, but no longer beautiful sailing. Just after noon the wind veered and lightened. We were going due north. I gybed and reset sheet to tiller. We went due west. I engaged a tiller pilot and lowered the main. We are still 20º high of the desired course and only making 4 knots but that is the best I can do. If I weren’t tired, I’d set the G2, but not having slept well two of the past there nights, I am and won’t.
I had wanted to use sheet to tiller to enable the batteries to recharge. I am not certain how many successive days we can use tiller pilots and there are areas ahead, particularly the Old Bahama Channel off Cuba which are narrow with shipping lanes and we need to sail a compass course. In partial compensation, we do get greater solar charging without the mainsail set.
1600 Ship passing several miles south of us heading east.
We are only twenty-five miles off the Dominican Republic coast, but I have not seen land.
From here on it is almost all coastal. Land will always be within twenty or so miles.
May 8, Monday
0630 Becalmed in moderate rain since 0400. We continued sailing until 0530 when the wind went west and died. I furled the jib, tied down the tiller and brought in the tiller pilot—I was using the last Raymarine which is quieter than the Pelagic. Rain is pattering steadily on the deck. Sky complete low gray. We are drifting south at a half knot to a knot. The coast is thirty miles away. I am sitting in my foul weather pants and sea boots. Going to make cup of coffee. Slept well.
0830 Rain has paused and wind returned from the southeast. We are underway, making 4 and sometimes 5 knots under jib alone. Starboard broad reach. Pelagic steering. I can see the coast thirty miles away.
1030 Wind veered far enough for me to be able to set the main without blanketing the jib, so I’ve gone to sheet to tiller steering to conserve the batteries. Not much solar charging today. Light rain has resumed. A ship passed a few miles south heading east. Just after I tied the sheet to the tiller, GANNET
caught a wave and surfed for ten or fifteen seconds at I judge more than ten knots. Go GANNET.
day’s run 91 miles COG 289ºn SOG 5.5
Key West 731 miles
Wind continues to veer. Now south and we sail on a beam reach. A few drops of rain. We are getting 1.8 amps of solar charging through the overcast. I don’t give a bearing for Key West because we have to sail a serpentine course past shoals and islands.
1250 Almost becalmed again. When I plugged in the last Raymarine, it died. Now all Raymarines are dead. I continued to use them in fine conditions because they are quieter than the Pelagic and I think use less power. The Pelagic is keeping our bow pointed in the right direction. Our SOG is a surprising 2.5, some of which must be current because there is almost no perceptible wind.
1500 Light wind filling from the north. Sailing at 4 knots on starboard beam reach. Pelagic steering, though if the wind lasts, I’ll try sheet to tiller.
Ship passed north of us heading east.
We are 17 miles north of Cabo Frances Viejo, which I take to be Old Frank’s Cape.
Sun has burned off all low clouds and some of the high. Half blue sky.
1900 The sun just set. Late because I have chosen to remain on US east coast summer time.
Dinner on deck. Leonardo da Fettuccini accompanied by a Bacardi Limon and tonic. As earlier noted I am not a rum drinker, but I adapt.
A cruise ship is passing several miles south of GANNET heading east. Some aboard might have been dining. Surely many were joining me in a sunset drink. There are Caribbean cruises and there are Caribbean cruises. I prefer mine. I am sure everyone on board the cruise ship prefers theirs.
This is an unusual passage for me. Shorter than most. Often within sight of land. And with a high proportion of wonderful sailing, including these last few hours. Sailing is like surfing: you often wait a long time for the right wave or conditions. In St. Lucia another sailor and I were talking about this. He estimated that only 15% of sailing is good. That may be true, but as with a surfer catching the great wave, it is worth the wait.
GANNET is sailing at five knots in not more than six knots of wind. Heavier boats might be making two or three knots, or sitting dead in the water, or be under power.
Sheet to tiller balance is delicate at this wind speed. It will surely change during the night. I slept well last night. I can get up tonight.
Other ways that this passage is unusual is that I still have fresh food: apples, limes, mini croissants.
And that I do not think of the final destination, but of the next obstacle. First it was the Mona Passage. Next Punta Caba Isabels in the Dominican Republic to leave to port 50 miles ahead. Then Great Inagua Island in the Bahamas 180 miles ahead to leave to starboard. Then the ten mile narrows of the Old Bahama Channel 430 miles ahead between the Bahamas and Cuba. And then the Cay Sal Bank. And then Key West. One obstacle at a time.
Looking over at the Dominican Republic I thought of Pedro Martinez, who was, along with Sandy Koufax, the greatest baseball pitcher I have ever seen. Koufax with the LA Dodgers when I lived there in the 1960s. Pedro with the Red Sox when I lived in Boston in the 1990s.
I believe that I read that at one time 25% of active major league baseball players came from the Dominican Republic, which comprises 2/3s of a moderate size island. The other third is Haiti.
For three or four years Pedro Martinez was unhittable. He had too many pitches. I also think I remember reading that one of those years he had statistically the best year of any major league pitcher ever. Batters, even the best, came to the plate not expecting to get a hit. You could see it in their stance. Instead of hitting the ball with the bat, their only hope was to swing and that Pedro would inadvertently hit their bat with the ball.
While on deck and now below writing I was listening to my Requiem playlist. It just ended with the third repetition of the last incomplete notes of Bach’s ART OF THE FUGUE. I wonder if anyone will listen to it when the appropriate time has come.
An almost full moon has risen. I am going to start new music, take my unfinished drink and stand in the companionway and be immersed in beauty.
May 9, Tuesday
0700 A sunny morning. Light wind continues. GANNET glided smoothly through the night at 4 knots in about that much wind. Maybe 5 or 6. I did have to adjust the sheet to tiller a few times and once remained awake until a ship that was crossing our bow passed a few miles away.
We are 14 miles off Cabo Isabels, the northern most point in the Dominican Republic. Looking at the Navionics chart in iNavX there is a good small harbor there and hotels. I’m not stopping.
I use both iSailor and iNavX. I prefer the appearance of iSailor and open it if I just want COG and SOG. I find using the waypoint list easier in iNavX. I have discovered that iNavX continues to use location services when running in the background, which enables it to provide position more quickly when reopened, but also uses battery power unless the app is completely closed, which I do.
As I have noted elsewhere, if you sail more than locally, charts for iSailor will be much more expensive than for iNavX. To cover the Caribbean with iSailor takes several folios. The one I bought that includes St. Lucia no longer provides detail of the Dominican Republic. With iSailor the state of Florida alone requires two or three folios. With iNavX you get Bermuda, the Caribbean and all Central and South America in one purchase; the Navionics entire US for, I think, $20; and can download the NOAA charts into the app for free. However, the current version of iNavX crashes from time to time. Thus far iSailor hasn’t.
day’s run 95 miles COG 283º SOG 4.5
Key West 639 miles
Another glorious day. Forty or fifty miles of the Dominican Republic visible to the south, along with one freighter heading east several miles inside us. Getting good solar charging. 4.9 amps presently. Batteries should be fully charged.
2000 Full moon astern. Lingering twilight ahead. I don’t recall perfection sustained this long. The wind has increased to ten knots. GANNET’s speed to 6 and 7. I have adjusted the steering, adding another shock cord to the tiller and taking a couple of wraps in the jib. I am deliberately sailing high of the rhumb line in an attempt to move north of the shipping.
This afternoon I watched huge cumulus clouds billow above Hispaniola, the island that encompasses both the Dominican Republic and Haiti. They faded with the sun and only trade wind clouds remained.
Leaning over the side to wash spoons and plastic cups and the plastic bowl I consider to be the kitchen sink I find the Atlantic a bit cooler than was the Caribbean.
I glance up and see the light flashing on the Yellowbrick which means it is transmitting a position.
We are heeled 10º and GANNET is more lively, dashing through the water rather than gliding. We have moved beyond the Dominican Republic. Haiti is south of us now. By this time tomorrow we should be across the Windward Passage and north of the east end of Cuba.
May 10, Wednesday
0800 The wind increased a few knots during the night and I was up for an hour at 0100, as it seems I usually am, adjusting the steering. I woke at 0530 to find us sailing fast, surfing on low waves. When I turned on my phone I saw an SOG of 12.8 knots. Too fast for sheet to tiller. I put on my foul weather pants to keep my shorts dry and went on deck, engaged the Pelagic and lowered the mainsail. The wind is not strong. Only perhaps 14 knots, but we need to sail a compass course across the Windward Passage and avoid Great Inagua Island, which is 12 miles north of us.
I had hoped to move away from shipping last night and perhaps mostly did, but while I was on deck this morning I saw a ship ahead. In the pre-dawn light I couldn’t make out his running lights or which way he was heading. Finally I saw that he had already passed us and was moving away to the west.
day’s run 128 miles COG 274º SOG 5.9
week’s run 815 miles
Key West 515 miles
We continue under jib and Pelagic. Rolling more than past few days.
Not a spectacular week’s run in miles, but it was spectacularly beautiful sailing. One of the nicest weeks I can remember.
1610 Lumpy seas presumably from currents around and between the islands. Great Inagua north of us. Cuba and Hispaniola to the south. GANNET rolling and wallowing.
I used the first of the ship’s water today, that is the water carried in the four jerry cans. I bought four 1.5 liter bottles of water in St. Lucia and filled my two day water bottles, one holds two liters, the other one liter, before I left the dock. That makes nine liters, which is what I have used this week. Or 1.3 liters or .3 of a gallon of fresh water a day. The same consumption as on the passage from Darwin to Durban.
I have more liquid than that. Juice in the morning. A can of tea or beer during the day. And two glasses of something at sunset.
I often read two books at once. Usually one non-fiction and one fiction, but recently I have been reading books of poetry and another book.
I just finished Derek Walcott’s epic OMEROS, which we are told is Homer’s name in ancient Greek. It is an impressive and entertaining achievement of a very high level. Although there is an Achille(s), a Hector and a Helen, I did not find this a retelling of the ILIAD and the ODYSSEY in a Caribbean setting, but a work of brilliant originality. Given time, I’ll read it again,
GANNET is leaping about so much I can hardly type and will stop.
1750 The chaos is behind us. With a half furled jib GANNET is rolling along at 5.5 to 6 knots in 16 to 18 knots of wind on the beam, but the motion is not so extreme. Two waves crashed on board and partially below. The first in a very long time. A dose of Moore 24 reality. I have become spoiled.
I’m sitting on the starboard pipe berth, my feet braced on the port berth. Billowing white cumulus clouds visible to the south through the companionway. On the floorboards a tumbler of Chilean chardonnay and dinner of venison risotto steeping. On the Megabooms, the Chieftains, TEARS OF STONE.
May 11, Thursday
0730 A beautiful, gentle morning.
By 2200 last night the wind and seas had moderated, so I got up and went on deck, set the mainsail and went to sheet to tiller steering. In the light of the full moon in a clear starry sky, I didn't even need to wear my headlamp. With several more trips to the deck to make adjustments during the night, GANNET made her way smoothly onward. I saw only one ship, but there may well have been more I did not see.
The nights are slightly cooler. For weeks I have been sleeping on top of a lightweight sleeping bag, but the past two nights I’ve pulled it over me.
Sailing at 5 knots under full main and jib, GANNET is presently 33 miles north of the Cuban coast and 44 miles WSW of Cay Santo Domingo in the Bahamas. We should reach the southeast end of the narrow Old Bahama Channel tomorrow morning.
day’s run 120 miles COG 300º SOG 5.6
Key West 397 miles
Continued fine sailing. Although I’ve been in the companionway often, surprisingly I’ve seen no ships this morning.
1630 G2 set. Pelagic steering.
The wind veered to the point the mainsail was blanketing the jib and sheet to tiller was no longer viable, so I set the G2 a half hour ago. It increased our speed from around 4 knots to 5 and 6. I will leave it up as long as the Pelagic can handle it.
Just before I set the G2 I heard a motor and saw a small power boat heading toward us. Ever since fishermen who wanted to become pirates tried to board THE HAWKE OF TUONELA off Java on the last circumnavigation, I’ve been dubious about boats approaching us at sea, but this contained two teen aged boys in wet suits who wanted to sell me fish. I said that I have no way to cook them. The boys smiled, waved and headed south toward Cuba, forty miles away. I guess you can cover that distance quickly in a small boat with a big engine.
Although it looks as though we are in open ocean, Bermudian shoals and cays are only a few miles away and we are in ever narrowing waters, culminating in the southeast entrance to the Old Bahama Channel 70 miles away. We should be there in the morning and sail much of the ten mile wide channel with shipping lanes during daylight. It goes on for 70 or 80 miles. We need to sail compass courses for the next 150 to 200 miles. Really for all the rest of the remaining 375 miles to Key West, though there is leeway once we are through the Old Bahama Channel.
May 12, Friday
Atlantic Ocean ?
0800 The question mark is because I’m not sure what body of water we are on. Whatever, we are between the southern Bahamas and Cuba sailing at about 4 knots under jib alone. The G2 stayed up for twelve hours, but at 0400 it was starting to move GANNET more quickly than the tiller pilot could keep up and I felt we were almost constantly alternating between nearly gybing or broaching. Not supportive of sleep. So I furled, lowered and stowed it and went with the jib. I was gong to this morning anyway because we have too limited maneuverability with the G2 for the confines of the channel ahead, though it is certainly the right sail to be set under present conditions.
Before that I was awake for most of the three hours from 0000 to 0300 because of two ships that behaved strangely. A clear night so I had them in sight all those hours. Both were brightly lit. One came up from behind us to within a half mile off our starboard quarter, then fell back and over the hours disappeared astern. The other was almost dead in the water directly ahead of us. At first several miles away. We finally passed her after I had to alter course to come up 10º. She was steaming slowly south. Perhaps both were killing time until they could enter some port.
After lowering the G2 I did manage to get some sleep until 0700. I’m tired and I thought that this coming night would be the one of broken sleep.
A few more low clouds this morning. Wind directly astern and light.
day’s run 113 miles COG 296º SOG 2.8
Key West 286 miles
Very unsatisfactory conditions. Reefs and shoals near to starboard. A stream of shipping near to port. Light wind, 4 or 5 knots, almost directly astern. Slightly toward starboard quarter.
Interrupted by sound of an approaching motor. Stood to find another two man fishing boat approaching. Not the same boys as yesterday. The one sitting aft at the outboard waved and shouted, “Hola”. The other standing a bit forward pointed downward presumably toward their catch. I shouted, “No.” They waved and headed back to the Bahamian banks.
When under jib alone our speed dropped below 2 knots, I raised the main, which even blanketing the jib is giving us another half to full knot. If the wind would just back ten or twenty degrees, we could keep both sails full. We are stuck on this compass course.
Several cruise ships have passed. I conclude that they arrive back in Miami tomorrow or even tonight and turn around to start the next cruise on Sunday.
Not surprisingly I fell asleep sitting at Central after lunch of Laughing Cow cheese and crackers. When I woke a half hour or so later, the wind had backed ten degrees and we are now sailing at 3 and sometimes even 4 knots. No ships in sight at present.
1815 The light on Cayo Lobos rises isolated from the ocean two miles to starboard. A ship heading east passed not long ago and is no longer visible. I seem to have the ocean to myself.
Other than the tiny cay on which the light stands, the only one on the Bahama side—there are several navigation lights on Cuba—there is not the slightest sign that water shoals from over a thousand feet to twenty within a hundred yards/meters. I was thinking of the early explorers of these waters. It is not surprising that there were wreaks. It is surprising that not every ship was wrecked.
Chicken Vindaloo is steeping. A shuffled playlist of non-classical is on the Megabooms in the cockpit. GANNET sailing at 4.5 to 5 knots on a beam reach under full main and jib with the Pelagic steering. I will set alarms tonight. I’m not sure at what intervals. I almost always wake before they go off. I’d like to get at least four or five hours sleep. I may also lower the mainsail and let us continue under jib alone. Speed is not important tonight. Staying out of trouble is. My feast, and a gin and tonic, await.
2040 Mainsail down. We are still making about 4 knots under jib alone. The slower we go, the less distance we can wander off course during whatever intervals I sleep. The AyeTides app has tides for a cay on the Bermudian side twenty miles ahead, but I don’t know what those tides do to currents here.
The moon will be up in less than an hour. Last vestiges of burnt orange light to the west. Lights on the Cuban shore visible and running lights of three ships. I’m going to try to get some sleep.
May 13, Saturday
Old Bahama Channel
0645 We are almost through the channel. Fourteen miles to go to the end of the traffic separation lanes.
I went to bed at 2100 and set an alarm for 2300, but was awake before it went off. I reset alarms for every two hours and was caught only by the last at 0500 when I was in deep sleep and couldn’t figure out what the iphone klaxon was. I got more sleep last night than the night before and am rested.
The wind remained light and backed steadily during the night. Cuba is certainly big enough to create a night land breeze. At 0100 I gybed the jib. We were sailing level so I didn’t gybe my bedding. When I got up a half hour ago I found the wind far enough forward on the port side to set the mainsail which has given us an extra knot, brining the SOG to 4.6.
There is a slight dogleg to the west in the channel. I made that course adjustment at 0300.
I only saw one ship all night long and that was heading the other way several miles distant.
Now I can consider Key West, which is 215 straight line miles away, but we still have to skirt the Cay Sal Bank and sail a bit farther.
The fishy smell of the Grand Bahama Bank, invisible but only two miles to starboard, is strong.
0930 We are near the end of the traffic separation lanes and I’ve gone to sheet to tiller. The batteries have been .1 lower each of the past two mornings with the Pelagic and the masthead LED in use. 12.3 this morning.
The first ship of the morning visible many miles to the south heading east into the channel.
Sunny. A few high clouds. Wind eight knots on the beam from the SSW.
day’s run 93 miles COG 288º SOG 1.9
Key West 193 miles 301º
Wind has gone very light. 3 or 4 knots and starting to back. We barely have sheet to tiller steering. I have to readjust the elastic bands every ten or twenty minutes. Now only one length of surgical tubing in place. If the wind remains the same, I’ll go back to the Pelagic to keep us pointed in the right direction tonight. We still have to skirt the fifty mile long Cay Sal Bank.
With my frequent trips on deck I’ve seen three more ships, all at a gratifying distance to port.
iSailor is better at keeping some detail when you zoom out. It still shows the Cay Sal Bank when I view from here to Key West. On a similar view in iNavX the bank completely disappears. You cannot even view the full bank in iNavX. This is true even on the bigger screen on my iPad mini. There is something to be said for having both chartplotting apps.
1630 Wind continued to back to the northeast. I gybed and rebalanced GANNET on a starboard beam reach. The wind was less than 4 knots until 1400 and is now about 7. We’re making 5 knots in approximately the right direction, but I’m still having to make frequent adjustments. I may return to the Pelagic to see us through the night.
1930 Dinner of Louisiana red beans and rice eaten on deck accompanied by a tumbler of Baron Philippe de Rothschild sauvignon blanc, the soundtrack of the movie, THE MAN WHO CRIED, and a cruise ship with more decks than I can count coming up a mile or so away to port. Those on board are having a very different experience of the sea than I. They probably don’t even lean over and rinse their spoons in the ocean. All after I lowered the mainsail and went to the Pelagic to steer under jib alone because the wind has backed so that sheet to tiller can’t steer us anywhere near the desired course.
May 14, Sunday
0900 The sound of the jib fluttering woke me around midnight. When I stood in the companionway I found that the wind had backed west until we were almost close-hauled. Though the jib was trimmed for a broad reach, the Pelagic had dutifully kept us on the compass course. I trimmed the jib and then raised the mainsail. We were heeled 15º, so I shifted the Avon to starboard and my bedding to the port pipe berth.
At 0600 I went on deck and further furled the jib and put a reef in the mainsail, which has reduced the angle of heel and smoothed out the ride, though we are still moving about on several axes. The wind has veered a bit and is now at 65º. When we clear Cay Sal in a couple of hours we can fall off a few degrees. We are still making better than five knots with an estimated arrival at the waypoint off Key West,102 miles away, before dawn tomorrow. I’ll continue at this speed until we are closer in case the wind weakens or dies.
Water coming over the bow is not making it back to the companionway. I have the spray hood up, but not tied down.
Sun starting to burn through high cloud cover. Barometer down only a millibar.
day’s run 106 miles COG 307º SOG 5.4
Key West 88 miles 306º
Wind swinging back and forth through 20º, from close hauled to close reach. Fortunately it has not headed us. Yet. Presently close reach. Full jib. Reefed main. I won’t remove the reef from the main unless it begins to appear that we won’t get in tomorrow. West wind is unusual here and I did not expect it. High overcast remains, but clouds do not look threatening.
1630 Wind has gone very light and is heading us. Took reef out of mainsail. Still making 2.4 knots but no longer on rhumb line. Sailing to windward with forward hatch open. 68 miles to go.
Sponged a half bucket of water from the bilge.
Gave myself a good fresh water rinse in the cockpit.
1900 Sailing at 4 knots 008º. Wind has headed us. Just what I didn’t want. I hope it keeps on going until we can lay Key West on the other tack.
Several ships have passed just north of us, some heading east, some west.
May 15, Monday
0200 At 2130 the wind backed enough for us to tack to starboard and, briefly, sail toward Key West. By 2300 the wind had died completely, leaving us drifting east away from Key West in 1 to 2 knot current. I turned off the Pelagic. No point is wasting battery power for nothing. I’ve left the sails up, but may lower them. Sea almost flat and glassy in moonlight. Haven’t slept since midnight. Waypoint off Key West 50.57 miles away. This was a beautiful passage until it wasn’t.
0230 Sails down.
0400 Drifting northeast 2.5 knots. Already east of Marathon.
0500 Can’t sleep. I raised the mainsail to get it out of the cockpit. I had left it draped there with the halyard still attached. Ship passing south of us heading east. I hope they are keeping a good lookout. We certainly can’t get out of their way.
If wind ever comes up, I may try for Marathon, where I can anchor west of the key and try to get a tow in. It is presently 29 miles away. I doubt I can reach Key West today. There are lots of rules and huge fines for anchoring and damaging coral in the Keys just to complicate matters.
0530 Mainsail back down. Flopping around too much. Tied it to boom.
0800 Sailing 2.4 knots toward Marathon. Over flown by Coast Guard patrol plane an hour ago. It paid no particular attention to us.
0815 Speed now up to 3.5-4.0 knots. With this current, our compass course is 285º resulting in a COG of 305º. I’ve sailed these waters many times before and never remember current this strong. I hope it decreases as we get closer to the islands.
day’s run 55 miles COG 310º SOG 2.5
Marathon 16 miles 318º
Sunny morning. Three sport fishing boats have passed heading farther out to sea. Wind 6 or 7 knots, but we can’t make any speed. We are partially heading into the current. We just keep going slower and slower. Frustrating and depressing.
1730 A brutal, tortuous day. Light wind. No wind. Light head wind. Adverse current.
We are presently three miles off Boot Key and in water shallow enough in which to anchor, though not in the location I want. A great relief when we crossed onto the reef and the depth reading went from 170’ to 30’ and I knew we could get an anchor down and not spend another night drifting toward the Bahamas. There is light wind from the northwest and we are sailing north at 3 knots, about the best we’ve done all day. If the wind holds, I’ll try to anchor at the west end of the Key. If it dies, I’ll anchor wherever we are and hope I’m not breaking any laws.
There are many other boats around. Several on day moorings near Sombrero Light. Some sailing. More powering.
1830 I see three or four sailboats anchored where I would like to, but am not sure I can reach them.
1930 Wind died a few minutes ago. Anchored in 12’ of water a mile south of the other boats.
2100 After furling the mainsail and tying down the tiller I took the Sportaseat on deck, poured a Bacardi Limon and tonic, with a slice of lime still fresh from St. Lucia, and sat on deck and watched the sun set fiery red beyond the Seven Mile Bridge. For a while I didn't even play music. I just sat in silence.
I was beyond my frustration tolerance level today. At sea I would not have enjoyed the poor sailing, but I would have accepted it better than drifting helplessly near land and shipping and other boats. It took us seven and a half hours to cover the last sixteen miles.
I finished my drink and went below to pour another.
I brought up the Megabooms and played music. First some of the Bach Cello Suites which suited my mood. Then songs by Loreena McKennitt.
We still weren’t quite there. Tomorrow I would have to re-anchor, go ashore, find a place for GANNET, retrieve the Torqeedo battery forty-five miles away in Key West, perhaps have to arrange a tow into the harbor which is accessed by a long narrow channel. But those are problems of the shore. A beautiful passage until the last thirty-six hours, but I am very glad to write:
Daily runs St. Lucia to Marathon total: 1323
Daily runs Durban to Marathon total: 7746
Daily runs San Diego to Marathon total: 23339